Over the last couple of years, an exciting movement has been gathering speed, and now counts among its numbers hundreds of companies from more than 20 countries. The “B Corp” Movement intends to, “use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” B Corps (and the movement itself) are making some huge positive strides to bring a more balanced form of business to life. And these are not just small, marginalized companies, a number of major brands like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s have signed on, and undergone the evaluation process to become “certified!”
Certification involves a rigorous process of self-study and external examination culminating in an Impact Assessment. If (or when - often it takes time and effort) the standards are met, the final step before certification is for the company to change its articles of incorporation and adjust leadership structures to ensure that the aim of making a social and environmental benefit to society is “baked in” to the very purpose, core, and activities of the company. That way, the social benefit becomes like a map to guide the company rather than just an extra burden to carry. This “strapped on” approach to social benefit may even go quite well for a time until inevitable tough times or tight budgets render it too burdensome, and most subject to being jettisoned.
This image takes me back to a hiking trail in upstate Vermont. We had already logged a few days of steady trekking on this trip I was leading, and found ourselves doggedly traversing yet another mountain path on this hot, humid day. In our packs, we carried full camping gear, stowed food for the next few days of meals, and - most easily accessible – lunch. The thought of enjoying that spread helped keep us motivated to get to the top. In some ways – far more than the energy value it would bring upon consumption, the motivational aspect of the food was its most important feature. However, along the way, one of member of our group got so frustrated and fed up with the climb, that he removed his part of lunch from its convenient location in his pack, examined it, and hurled it off the side of a cliff as we passed by. How tempting it is to discard the extra things we’ve “strapped on” when the going gets tough! However, no thought of heaving our map off that cliff to lighten our load was ever never considered. It was our central guide, indispensible even if had weighed the equivalent (or 10 times that) of the bag of peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips which plummeted like a parachutist into the ravine below! This is precisely why the social and environmental benefit must be “baked in.”
Now, if you’ll leave the trail, let’s return to B Corps. Here’s a video of Jay Coen Gilbert, one of the founders of the movement, presenting on a new kind of marketplace he believes is emerging. He believes present-day “shareholder capitalism” will linger for a time, but is already headed towards antiquity. What Gilbert thinks will take its place is “stakeholder capitalism,” in which businesses consider people, the future, the environment and society as stakeholders in all of their activities and outcomes. Those parties, in shareholder capitalism, classify simply as "externalities" outside the purview of business.
In only a few years of existence, the folks at B Corps have made serious inroads - successfully leading conversations and providing goals and higher standards for hundreds of businesses - each one having its own web effect for positive change. Furthermore, the movement has pushed successfully for legislation in 20 US states (with 18 more in the works!) to provide legal status to "Benefit Corporations" and "create a new kind of corporation for a new economy." B Corps prove that we can change business for the better if we work together and create a little bit of momentum at the right time.